Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On rappel...

For regular readers of my blog, the subject line may seem a bit familiar.  Back in January 2010, I joined a group of friends to ice climb down in Ouray.  Well, it's now April and the snow/ice is mostly gone from the Colorado Front Range (although I'm sure we'll get hit by one more snowstorm...but that's another story...)

This past Sunday was 1st Rock Day for my Basic Mountaineering School students.  As we prepared earlier in the week by testing the students about their knowledge of climbing knots and what they're used for, the field trip is intended to introduce them to the details of top roping, anchors, multi-pitch scenarios, how to escape the belay and ultimately to have fun.  As I noted in my last blog posting, I had a sneaky suspicion of some anxiety about 1st rock day but when the time arrived, the students completed the task and hopefully learned some things as well.

We arrived at the trailhead at 7 AM and geared up for the hike/climb.  Now granted, the climbing area was no more than 1/2 mile from the trailhead but the instructors thought it would be good practice to hike 1-2 miles with a full pack and climbing ropes.  Our rationale is that as the field trips progress, we'll be hiking longer and higher with heavy packs of climbing gear, food/water, overnight gear, etc.  We arrived at a big pile of rocks no more than 40' high and set up two anchor stations for top-roping and rappelling.  The top rope station allowed students the opportunity to rock climb in their mountaineering boots, to practice climbing signals, and to belay each other up the rock. The rappel station allowed students the opportunity to rappel down a nearly vertical rock face and to understand how the systems work.  The class builds redundancy into the climbing systems so the risk for injury is rather low.  Fortunately, the redundant systems worked well as one of our first students to rappel down managed to do a full 180 degree flip with her back against the rock and her head towards the ground.  To her credit, she held onto the rope, kept her wits about her, and righted herself to continue to rappel.  I was pleased/happy/relieved....  The remainder of the students did very well and did several rappels during the course of the day.  BTW, that's me on rappel...had to get one in!

This Sunday is 2nd rock day down in Castlewood Canyon near Castle Rock, CO.  On the docket is prussiking, passing the knot, how to build anchors, more rappelling, and rock climbing.  Should be great fun!

Climb On my friends!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Head west young man...or is it north...or...

This past Sunday AM, Easter Sunday, was the first field day for a new Basic Mountaineering School (BMS) class.  Last year at this same time, I was a student in BMS but this year I'm an assistant instructor.  BMS is a class offered by the Colorado Mountain Club and is designed to give aspiring mountaineers the skills necessary for navigation, rock climbing, and snow skills.  The class is broken down into 5 lecture nights and 6 mandatory fields trips with 2 "qualifying" trips afterwords to officially graduate from the school.  The field trips cover such topics as map/compass, rappelling, rock climbing, escaping the belay, "passing the knot" in the rope, self arrest with an ice axe, crampon travel, and a host of other skill sets to prepare the student to safely traverse the mountains - whether it's in Colorado or other loftier ascents.

I had an excellent BMS experience last year and was pushed outside my comfort zone often - particularly when we got to the rock climbing field trips.  I guess it's a natural fear that you don't want to fall off a mountain; yet rock climbing, by it's nature, is typically on vertical terrain and gravity always winds.  You have to train your mind to trust your gear, your fellow students, and your instructors.  It took some time to trust the gear but once I learned  the reality that my body weight on a rope is really nothing for the system, then my fear of falling decreased dramatically.  Now I can rappel off a 50-75' cliff without much fear.  The class also has the added benefit that as I get closer to completing the 54 14ers in Colorado, my comfort level on the more difficult peaks is better than if I had not taken the class.  Case in point, I climbed Pyramid Peak (one of the top 5 most difficult 14ers) last summer with my climbing partner, Alan Arnette, last summer and felt more confident in my abilities to summit.

So, this past Sunday...map/compass day with the students.  The gist of the trip is to have the students guide the group to 6 points on a map using their compasses and terrain reading skills compared to the map.  Our roles as instructors was to make sure they did not get into difficult terrain, to assist those who did not understand how to use a map/compass and provide support.  Long story short, they were rock stars!  They found all 6 points without much difficulty and in reviewing the GPS track, did it in an efficient manner.  I was pleased with their teamwork and their skills.

Next Sunday is 1st rock day on Little Scraggy Peak.  My guess is there's some anxiety among some of the students but I'm hopeful that they will do well.  More to come...

Climb On my friends!